Just as the optimism rises you suddenly come to the realisation that I t is not looking good for piping and pipe bands. Two announcements in the last few days here in the UK have, in my estimation, put the kybosh on the 2021 season as we know it.
Firstly the Chairman of Events Scotland, co-sponsors of the Worlds said that he thought it highly unlikely that there would be any ‘mass gathering’ events this summer.
Scotland is facing a two-and-a-half year hiatus without major festivals and events, according to the government’s own senior official, as he warned they would be “unsustainable” to stage while Covid social distancing measures are still needed.
He was ostensibly talking about outdoor rock festivals, major sporting gatherings and the like but could also have included Glasgow Green given that the bands there attract upwards of 40,000 over the two days.
The second was the announcement yesterday that all international travellers will have to quarantine for ten days on arriving here and that it will cost them close on £2,000 to do so.
My understanding is that this will not be lifted before the end of September at the earliest. The promoters of the major solo contests at Oban and Inverness will now have to decide whether they want to go ahead with a live contest or not. How devalued will their showpiece events be with a quarter, maybe more, of the overseas contingent missing?
Thinking more broadly, the Events Scotland ruling – remember they have a hotline direct to Scotland’s devolved administration – posts a significant question mark over Highland games too. Yes, the piping contests could be held in a quiet corner of the field as I have said before, but major crowds round an arena watching the caber – no chance.
So that means Cowal and Braemar, the Argyllshire Gathereng, Lonach and all the other big crowd pullers are looking decidedly shaky.
On both the solo and band fronts promoters need to decide if they want anything to happen this summer at all.
The bands cannot rely on local authorities for guidance. They will be hamstrung for cash anyway and need to watch what they do or their finances, already under strain, could be cut further by central government. No, what we need is the RSPBA to come up with something which allows bands onto the grass, either in small scale, audience free contests (sensible guidelines yesterday from the EUSPBA). If the will is there, and certainly Chairman John Hughes indicated as much when I last interviewed him for PP, it might just be possible.
With the solos could the piping convenors at the games not have a contingency whereby they run a contest even if the main games don’t go ahead? Pipers and judges would all understand if there was not much money around, wouldn’t they?
If we want some piping this summer it is no use just sitting around waiting for a major, back-to-nomal green light from the government. It looks highly unlikely that will come until this time next year. What could happen are halfway house events, audience free, outdoor, carefully controlled.
Many may feel that is not worth the candle. Let’s just sit tight until 2022 or 23, however long it takes. But as the Piobaireachd Society proved with its recital last November and the Glenfiddich with their contest we can get some live piping going if really want it. With the vaccine roll-out storming ahead there will be an opportunity for a tune this summer if we try hard enough to make it happen.